I'm a no-frills traveler who hates planned group activities, so I thought cruising wasn't for me.
My first cruise, a five-night voyage with Carnival, changed my mind and I fell in love.
I loved the people watching and unique performances and can't wait to cruise again.
With forced fun, luxurious amenities, and schedules, cruises never sounded like my ideal vacation.
Fancy resorts make me uncomfortable — I'd rather camp on the beach in a sleeping bag (and I have). I prefer hostels over hotels for their lower cost and added opportunities to meet interesting people. I don't like organized fun, and I've gotten into trouble for wandering off every time I've traveled with a tour group.
But I'm a writer and the novel I'm working on is set on a cruise, so I knew I needed to go on one in order to accurately capture the experience. So last March, my husband and I headed to Charleston, South Carolina, and boarded the Carnival Sunshine for a five-night cruise to the Bahamas.
Much to my surprise, I loved it. Here are a few reasons why.
The people watching on cruises is incredible
As we wandered the ship, my husband and I quickly became enthralled by the other passengers.
We loved overhearing strange conversations and exclamations that we had no context for. One of the most shocking ones involved a woman turning to a friend, or a possible significant other, and shouting, "You're not attractive, and you never will be!"
Were they rehearsing a play? Did she really feel that way? We'll never know.
While at Bingo one night, we watched a multigenerational family have a meltdown.
The aunt, who had slumped down to the floor, seemed to have taken full advantage of her unlimited drink package. An uncle kept yelling about how he didn't understand bingo. One person, who we suspected might be a son-in-law, kept asking the group, "Isn't this fun? Isn't this so great, guys?" in an increasingly desperate tone. We gave up on marking our Bingo cards and watched them instead.
Not all of the people watching involved fights. While watching a movie on the pool deck, we listened in on what appeared to be a first date. And since the two left together halfway through, we assumed it went well.
These vignettes were almost as entertaining as the actual entertainment. Almost.
The entertainment on the ship was surreal in the best way
Carnival entertainment is delightfully bizarre.
As we left port, dancers burst into a choreographed routine by the pool. Costumed Dr. Suess characters — Cat in the Hat and Sam-I-Am — perched by the DJ and cheered them on.
During the day, a person dressed as an elephant made out of towels similar to the ones we'd find in our room each night would pop by the pool to pose for pictures.
Every night, the ship's theater put on a jukebox musical, each of which felt like a themed episode of "Glee." There were Latin nights, rock'n'roll nights, and my favorite, disco night. After each performance, the party continued.
Our final night on the ship was themed after the '80s and '90s and our cruise director donned his best Richard Simmons cosplay and got unsuspecting men to shake their booties to "Baby Got Back."
Even dinner included impromptu performances. Without any warning, waiters would leap onto tables, dance for a few minutes, and then go back to serving. According to the announcements I heard, this happened because Carnival is the "fun" cruise line.
As oddball as the performances seemed, they were also quite good. We were surprised by how much we enjoyed them.
I understand why cruising's not for everyone – but I can't wait to go again
There were aspects of our voyage that weren't great. For instance, trying to find a seat by the pool during the day was akin to finding a needle in a haystack. I also would've liked to spend more than two days in the Bahamas.
But, overall, I thought cruising was perfect.
I didn't expect the organized fun to be so eccentric, or the cruise goers themselves to be so fascinating. And since the ship was so big, I could wander to my heart's content, just as I do on my other vacations.
I can't help but wonder if all cruise lines feel as wonderfully weird as Carnival, but I do intend to find out.
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